Can Shonda Rhimes do no wrong? It seems that Rhimes creates a new television show for ABC every few years. And every few years Rhimes hands ABC a stellar drama — although many people complained about Private Practice.
Not so with Rhimes’ and Betsy Beers’ latest drama foray, Scandal, which premiered on April 5 as a midseason series of seven episodes.
Loosely based on former President George H.W. Bush’s administration press aide, Judy Smith, the ABC Studios Production stars an emotional Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. Pope is the leader of Pope & Associates, a crisis management firm of lawyers who “solve” cases in very quick, very methodical ways. The similarities between Pope and Smith, who is a co-executive producer on the show, lie in the fact that they are both former press aides for the White House who now own their own crisis management firms. In Scandal, viewers are treated to a more salacious version of Smith. As Washington put it during an interview on E! News Now, Smith never had an affair with the president of the United States (POTUS).
Pope’s team consists of Huck (Guillermo Diaz), a former black-ops specialist; Stephen (Henry Ian Cusick), a former shark lawyer who is also a former lady’s man; Harrison (Columbus Short); a former insider trader who has magnificent hearing and refers to himself and his team as “gladiators in suits”; Abby (Darby Stanchfield), the angry, distrusting member of the group; and Quinn (Katie Lowes), the new girl on the scene with a hidden past.
Rhimes has always been one to put a lot of effort into character development. So the current roster of Olivia’s team can be quite entertaining in their own right. Olivia Pope herself is still a bit of a mystery. From the first two episodes we find out, from the team, the things that Olivia doesn’t do and doesn’t like. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t like to hear “I don’t know.” And, she doesn’t like the word “lose.” Yet Washington’s Pope, who is supposed to be a robot, always manages to show a full range of emotion, often communicated solely with her eyes and her lips.
Pope also has such a soft spot for the POTUS (Tony Goldwyn) that she’s cried for him. From the beginning the precedent is set that Olivia is not only good at what she does, she’s also feared by those who dare cross her — except for POTUS, President Fitzgerald Grant, and his chief of staff, Cyrus (Jeff Perry). While President Grant is Olivia’s kryptonite, Cyrus is the thorn in her side. The plot thickens.
THE ‘S’ FACTOR
But why should viewers watch? In a marketing effort ABC put a camera into Lowes’ hands to ask that question of her co-stars. Two answers were really good.
“They all start with ‘S’,” said Joshua Malina, who plays assistant district attorney David Rosen. “It’s sexy. It’s sassy. It’s suspenseful. It’s Shonda-rific.”
Rhimes didn’t need to slip Malina a $20 for that last comment because he was telling the truth. Rhimes is great at producing dramas that showcase a wide range of stories, starring a wide range of ethnic representation via an ensemble cast — a welcome sight in television. It’s also a welcome sight to see a woman of color at the helm of a popular new drama with early, impressive ratings of 7.5 million viewers and climbing.
Stanchfield added about Scandal: “You will probably cry, at least, once. You will definitely laugh and you will be on the edge of your seat.”
Stanchfield was not exaggerating. From the first scene of each episode, the storylines and characters keep Scandal’s plot moving at all times. You can’t have a show created by Shonda Rhimes that’s not fast-paced. The rapid-fire speech and dramatic twists are a Rhimes staple.
And that’s just fine for viewers. Who wouldn’t like a television series called Scandal, about scandal, that solves scandals, and is an ode to the phenomenon that, no matter what the time period, scandal is scandal?
Photo: Kerry Washington